Early education is again a hot topic. Will renewed interest, eloquent language, and touching photo ops lead to children better prepared for school? Or, should there be a new direction?
Advocates argue early education ensures a better quality education benefiting of none more than low-income families; and it alleviates the demand for child care by families where a single-parent or both parents work outside the home.
We agree if the program benefits children. The right question is: who and how should it be done?
The federal and state governments have the answer: they should. With more taxpayer dollars they will expand a framework that must be inadequate because after years of more programs and taxpayer investment we are still talking about the need.1
Children ages 3-5 with an economic need have received federal aid through Head Start since 1964 with the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act. In 1995 Early Head Start expanded the age from birth to 5 years old.
Delaware created the Early Childhood Assistance Programs (ECAP) in 1994 to provide childhood services to income-eligible 4-year olds. Since then the early education system has proliferated into other spending to determine eligibility, align state and federal programs, monitor registration, develop teaching strategies, track student progress, evaluate outcomes, and opportunities for professional development.
Race to The Top (RTTT) added more support, training, and expertise for those who care for children, insure infrastructure, and give kindergarten teachers student data. State standards were revised in 2010 to align with Common Core Standards.
How well are these programs working for Delaware families?
Again Delaware follows a pattern of fair to poor performance and high spending.
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University found in 2012 the State’s portion of early education spend was the sixth highest (fifteenth highest all funding considered) while access to education was thirty second among states.
Since 2007 the state has reduced its contribution by 14% which is below 2002 levels; and access has decreased one percentage point. 2
Again, the question is: who and how should the legitimate needs and grievances of the public be fulfilled?
Florida went in a different direction. Abandoning the state framework that only enrolled 20,000 children annually, the state sent funds to county organizations; a system the state legislature used when it created Voluntary Pre-K (VPK).3 A county system that successfully grew enrollment to one of the largest serving more than 175,000 eligible students.
NIEER reports Florida in 2012 was first in access and thirty fifth in state spending (thirty eighth all funding considered).4
Rather than commit taxpayer dollars to another all-in program, why not try different solutions? Could a county structure benefit communities that may have different needs?
How would it help the Wilmington area if the county had more control? County and city leaders are grappling with tough issues and education is one of them. With a high crime rate, weak economy, and weak public school system families are leaving for better schools in places like Chester County, PA or, income permitting, the suburbs where there is a better selection of public, charter, and private schools.
The exodus deprives the city of much needed tax revenue to fund services as well as commitments such as pension programs; a situation reminiscent of a Detroit-like downward spiral. Perhaps a different combination of early education, family and community involvement will serve the Wilmington area better.
Big government programs are not always the answer. Perhaps something local, smaller, and more aggressive: Perhaps a program in a low income, high crime area in Wilmington where all see the impact and can work the solution. Where parents can choose the best solution and have funds to support that decision.
Might that type of solution provide the opportunity for more equality, improve quality, help alleviate child care issues, provide more opportunity to tailor education to individual children and encourage entrepreneurial programs to create even more and better programs for all families?
Director, Center for Education Excellence
Click the link below to see the comparision between Delaware and Florida early education spending, and to see sources for the facts listed in this article.